article I would like to explore the Japanese concept of wabi. The
concept was once described to me as the crack in the teacup that I held
during a tea ceremony in Los Angeles. I asked my mentor why imperfect
china was used on such a profound and sacred occasion. He told me that
everything that was present in the tea ceremony was present in the crack
in the cup, and that without that flaw, the tea ceremony might not
exist. It was that which I perceived as a flaw that was the distillation
of the entire Zen/tea experience.
I was reminded then of the Hopi Indians of our desert Southwest. The
Hopi people craft some of the most beautiful rugs in the world using
exquisite patterns and colors, their rugs are more suited to hanging on
a wall as art then lying on the dirt floor of an adobe hut. These rugs
all have one thing in common, an intended flaw in the weaving, always in
a very obvious place that keeps the rug from ever being perfectly
symmetric. The Hopi say that the flaw is the “spirits door” and that it
allows the spirit of the rug to come and go as it pleases, thus keeping
the spirit (and the rug), happy.
Kata, pre arranged fighting sequences in the martial arts, also
exemplify the concept of wabi. Martial arts forms are the embodiment of
the techniques in their art, and the practitioners know that there are
techniques hidden within the techniques within the Kata. Martial arts
masters love to peel back those hidden layers of meaning over time to
slowly reveal the true intent and nature of their art.
My Traditional Chinese Medical schooling had this same nesting of
meaning. We started out reading the “Yellow Emperor” (Huang Di Nei Jing,
the foundation of all Chinese medical literature), and through the years
we were led to deeper insights with that book. Later, in post-doctoral
work, we dissected one line of the Yellow Emperor and used it as the
springboard for an entire thesis.
Wabi is the distillation of a lifetime of experience into a single
moment, and teacups, rugs, kata and rare books are used by masters to
teach us that what is complex is actually simple, and the seemingly
simple can be quite complex.
Since my initiation to the tea ceremony at the L.A. Zendo, I have read
of other peoples encounters with the Zen tea ceremony and I suspect that
those cracked cups are mass produced, for it seems that every novice to
the ceremony encounters the crack and is primed to ask the same
questions that I did. I suspect the same of Indian rug merchants, karate
masters and Chinese doctors.